National Rugby League boots 'metadata' right into Australia's face

New phone-snooping code for naughty players illustrates state surveillance

Australian politicians and activists frustrated at their fellows' apparent indifference to the metadata data retention debate have cause to thank the National Rugby League (NRL).

In its laudable battle against bad behaviour by the inadvertent role models who sign up to play in its competition. the NRL has announced new rules for its integrity unit – including: “requiring [clubs and players] to provide documents including phone records”, although “it is not proposed to require players to provide their phones as part of investigations”.

This provides, in other words, a handy explainer that would – if handled well – penetrate the consciousness of the sleepwalking suburban who's so easily persuaded by a bit of khaki or an eight-flag prime ministerial press conference.

Unlike politics, sports is something Australians care about: the NRL is one of Australia's big four football codes (alongside Rugby Union, Australian Rules and Soccer).

Since the same scandals that regularly "rock" the NRL - think consumption and/or involvement with distribution of illegal drugs, use of performance-enhancing drugs, drunkenness, biting fellow players and players committing violence against women - turn up in other sports it wouldn't surprise Vulture South to see this kind of policy spread across the codes – and across the sports sections of news sites.

Yes, there is a key difference between the NRL's code and the data retention legislation. A handy halfback or a fleet-of-foot fullback is paid handsomely for his League contract, and part of the quid pro quo is that he submits to the governing body's rules. Which means not bringing the code into (further) disrepute, thereby justifying a trawl through old TXT messages.

Ironically, the NRL often makes a point of its troubles being caused by a tiny number of miscreants. About 1,000 people play the game professionally. A far smaller number runs foul of the law, or tabloid sensibilities, each year.

Yet the NRL has given itself the power to rummage through the phone records of even the most decorated cleanskin champion in the game.

Australia's citizens will soon be subject to data retention and access merely by existing and using a telephone or Internet service.

So thanks, National Rugby League: you've put surveillance of telephone records in front of a audience that mostly ignores such stories. ®

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